GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Before cannabis was legal in Michigan, some communities were deeply impacted by what the city of Grand Rapids calls an over-enforcement of the laws. Now, the city will create a nonprofit to try to bring social equity to these areas.

“Inequitable drug enforcement and disparate sentencing practices across the country have radiating impact in community. Whether it’s the ability to apply for financial aid, to go to college, for housing, for different assistance. The impact is far and wide,” said Stacy Stout, Director of Equity and Engagement of the city of Grand Rapids. “We know this nonprofit is a piece of the puzzle, it’s not going to totally undo the harm, but if we can help heal, we ought to.”

The Grand Rapids City Commission has given its approval for a nonprofit to be created that would support efforts such as business incubation, entrepreneur training, job and wealth creation strategies, economic incentives, capital, expungement assistance and more to boost opportunities for communities who have been traditionally under-resourced.

The program was originally part of the city’s Cannabis Social Equity Policy, adopted July 7, 2020.

The city will appoint about 11 directors to the first board. It will feature people from diverse viewpoints, in order to spark meaningful conversations about the best ways to create improvements after negative effects from the War on Drugs.

“We hope to get a lot of applications from those that are just as passionate as we are around healing the harm caused, but also lifting up community in a really creative and equitable way,” said Stout.

There are advantages to creating a nonprofit, said Assistant City Attorney Amber Beebe.

“(This) shifts many programming and administrative responsibilities away from local government, thus avoiding the need to create a new department or new positions that may not be supported by the city budget. It also has fewer restrictions on the ability to raise revenue and spending and therefore, can provide greater access to potential grants and other funds,” Beebe said.

For now, the program remains unnamed. The city hopes to have the nonprofit up and running within the next year and a half.

“This is an exciting time, not just for Grand Rapids and the state of Michigan, but we hope this can be a model for other places as well,” said Stout.